DC-area businesses find niche in CrossFit craze

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News,Business

WASHINGTON (AP) — Siblings Erin Losie and Sean Emery had plans to start small when they opened H Street's Old City CrossFit three months ago.

That didn't happen.

"Our goal was to have 20 people sign up when we opened," said Losie, 34. "We immediately had five or six times that."

The billion-dollar CrossFit industry has grown dramatically in recent years, and in the process, has given way to a network of businesses — ranging from meal delivery services to clothing and shoe lines — that cater to tens of thousands of Washington-area devotees.

The fitness program, founded in 2000 in California, is a mix of aerobic exercise, gymnastics and weightlifting. The company licenses the CrossFit name to more than 7,000 gyms around the world for an annual fee of about $3,000.

In the Washington area, there are more than 150 CrossFit gyms, double the number of Washington Sports Club and Gold's Gym locations combined, with more opening in the coming weeks.

"Growth has been phenomenal," said Chriss Smith Jr., who founded Trident CrossFit in Alexandria, Va., with his wife in 2006. The gym currently has 610 members.

Local owners say relatively low startup costs, combined with exploding demand have made CrossFit facilities — called "boxes" in industry lingo — an attractive business venture. Members typically pay upward of $200 a month, with many paying more for private lessons.

Josh Dempsey, who founded CrossFit Silver Spring in August 2011, said he spent about $50,000 getting his facility off the ground. He was profitable within six months. Last year, revenue doubled to more than $200,000.

"A lot of our growth has come from word-of-mouth referrals," Dempsey said.

The trend has become so ubiquitous that Reebok has introduced a line of CrossFit clothing and shoes, while ESPN has begun airing national CrossFit competitions.

A number of local meal delivery services have also cropped up to keep up with growing demand from CrossFit regulars, many of whom adhere to the Paleolithic diet, which promotes meats, nuts and vegetables over dairy and grains.

District-based Power Supply has made a business of this alone, providing packaged Paleo-friendly meals to more than 60 CrossFit facilities in the area.

In three years, the company has sold more than 300,000 meals, which cost between $9.50 and $15.50 a piece, according to partner Robert Morton.

"There are a lot of diet-centric meal services, but our goal has always been to fuel up people who are living an active lifestyle," said Morton, a CrossFit athlete who quit his job as a senior vice president at district-based Blackboard to join the company.

Beginning last month, the company partnered with Takoma Park's SouperGirl and Out of the Box Bakery in the district to offer soups and gluten-free baked goods to area gyms.

"There is obviously a lot of demand," Morton said.

Mike Peterson can attest to that demand — and he's got the revenue to prove it. The owner of Heritage Hollow Farms in Sperryville, Va., racked up about $45,000 last year supplying grass-fed beef and pork to members of three local CrossFit gyms.

The sales accounted for 15 percent of the farm's total business.

Tom Brose opened the district's first CrossFit practice in 2005, when he began offering classes out of a gym in Kalorama. Today, Brose owns CrossFit D.C., a sprawling center on 14th Street NW, and is in the process of opening another on H Street NE.

"There has been a huge amount of growth — not just in the proliferation of CrossFit, but also in its acceptance in the mainstream fitness world," he said.

But there are challenges, too. Since CrossFit licenses its name instead of offering franchise territories, there are no limits on where — and how many — branded gyms can set up shop in a given area.

"Someone can literally open up right next door to you," said Andrea Smith, co-owner of Trident CrossFit. "There is a lot of growing competition, so you really need to do a good job of creating your own personality."

Local owners say it's too soon to tell whether the growth in CrossFit gyms is sustainable long-term. But like the yoga studios and spinning classes that came before, many say the best facilities will survive. "I don't see it going away any time soon," said Tyler Millstein, 24, who two weeks ago opened CrossFit Hierarchy in Adams Morgan. "People realize that they're buying into a program that's very successful."

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Information from: The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com

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